After almost three months of lockdown, the state of Jammu and Kashmir finally was re-organised into a federally-ruled Union Territory. To be ruled by a Lt Governor, the process of giving it a new structure has already begun. This report details the historic transition
Jammu and Kashmir is in the process of an uncertain transition from full statehood to two truncated Union Territories (UT). After 88 days of the abrogation of Article 370 and downgrade of the status on August 5, Girish Chandra Murmu, Expenditure Secretary in the Government of India, took an oath of office on October 31, coinciding with the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, being observed as National Unity Day since 2014. Murmu, a 1985 Gujarat cadre IAS officer, slated to retire in November, is the first Lieutenant Governor of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.
The ceremony was low-key, somber and lacked traditional celebratory mood. “There were only three TV cameras that covered the event,” one official who attended the function said, insisting the guest list was not more than 200. “There were judges, officers and only one or two local political activists.”
One of them was Nazir Ahmad Laway, PDP’s Rajya Sabha member, who was already in crisis within the party. A day after, PDP expelled Laway from the party. Will the expulsion lead him to lose his membership in the Rajya Sabha is not known. Others with political background included Dr Nirmal Singh, a BJP leader, who continues to be the Speaker of the assembly despite the assembly being non-existent and hugely downgraded, and Jugal Kishore, a BJP MP from Jammu.
All the four advisers of Kashmir’s last governor Satya Pal Malik were part of the oath-taking event. Their tenure concluded with the abolishing of the post of the governor. Some of them are preparing to leave for home. Malik, interestingly, had taken the first flight the day the appointment of LGs was made. The state was without a nominal head for all these days and the Raj Bhawan was less noisy.
So far, the Home Ministry has not indicated about the appointment of any adviser to the Lt Governor who will be holding the office for the president of India. The only appointment that the Raj Bhawan has so for made is the transfer of Bipul Pathak as the Principle Secretary to LG. Already, Umang Narula has been shifted as Principle Secretary to the LG in Ladakh, former defence secretary, R K Mathur. S S Khandare, a 1995-batch IPS officer, will head the police in Ladakh. The designation of the police in Ladakh, earlier known as Jammu and Kashmir Police, is not known.
Soon after the oath-taking, Murmu inspected the ceremonial guard of honour of Jammu and Kashmir Police at the civil secretariat at Srinagar. The Secretariat had closed in Srinagar last week and is reopening in Jammu for the six month stint, next week. The moment, he was in the civil secretariat in an introductory meeting with the secretaries, his wife was flying back to Delhi. Murmu had landed in Srinagar along with his two sons and nephew for the oath ceremony.
A close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, Murmu was Modi’s Principle Secretary in Gujarat. He moved to Delhi soon after Modi took over as the Prime Minister. Considered a trouble shooter, Murmu is reportedly having an impressive legal knowledge. His Kashmir connection, according to officials, was his handling of the Rs 80,000 crore package that Modi announced in Srinagar, the day, he publicly rebuffed the then Chief Minister, Mufti Sayeed.
From Srinagar, Murmu will control India’s most sensitive territory for Ram Nath Kovind, the President of India, who is also the Supreme Commander of India’s armed forces. Kashmir is closed for three months, in protest against the abrogation of Article 370, the costs of which have already spiraled beyond Rs 10,000 crore, according to Kashmir Chamber of Commerce.
The oath-taking was the beginning of a process that started with the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act by the Parliament in August. In the last 88 days, many orders were issued. However, hours before the ceremony, the Home Ministry issued a notification that pulled down the curtains on Jammu and Kashmir as a state.
In a late-night notification, the MHA during the intervening night of October 30 and 31 replaced the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the “union territory of Jammu and Kashmir”.
“… there are references in the state laws that have been applied to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Union Territory of Ladakh to the expressions ‘permanent residents’ or ‘hereditary state subjects’…, wherever they occur, shall be omitted,” the notification said. It said any reference in any existing law to the “legislature of the state or any House or Houses” shall be construed as references to the legislative assembly or legislature of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The UT of Ladakh will lack an assembly as in case of Chandigarh. However, the UT of Jammu and Kashmir will have an assembly on the pattern of Puducherry.
The notification said that no lawsuit will be maintained for any action taken, including any notification issued or order, rule or appointment made during the period between August 5 and October 31 as these shall be deemed to be valid and operative as if such things had been done or actions taken in accordance with law, according to the notification.
In between MHA notification and Murmu’s takeover, the President issued two separate notifications. In the first one, he revoked his December 19, 2018 proclamation that had put the Jammu and Kashmir state under his rule. This he did under clause (2) of Article 356 of the Constitution of India.
Article 356 is applicable to states and not UTs. So he issued a second notification. Invoking Section 73 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act that provides in case of failure of the constitutional machinery, if recommended by the LG of the UT, the President can rule the UT. The law gives the President an authority to suspend the operation of all or any of the provisions of this Act for a period he thinks fit.
“Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred under section 73 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, read with articles 239 and 239A of the Constitution, and of all other powers enabling me in that behalf, I hereby proclaim that I — (a) assume to myself as President of India all functions of the Government of UT of Jammu and Kashmir and all powers vested in or exercisable by the LG of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir; (b) declare that the powers of the legislature or legislative Assembly of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall be exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament,” the notification read. Thus President took over the UT’s government.
As Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Justice Gita Mital administrated oath of office to the two LGs, in two separate functions, the UTs became operational. They have their own structure that will gradually be visible. Certain things, however, have already been implemented.
As Jammu and Kashmir ushered into the UT, the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir stands abolished automatically. It was this constitution that empowered the state and its assembly. The governor’s administration had already done away with the state flag, when it was removed from the civil secretariat.
With the constitution of the Jammu and Kashmir, goes the Ranbir Penal Code. The criminal procedure code of the state, almost a replica of the IPC, was introduced during the reign of Maharja Ranbir Singh, whose administrative interventions made him distinct in the entire Dogra clan that ruled Kashmir with an iron fist for 101 years.
In the new system, the SRO system goes. Initially being called the Shri Ranbir Singh Order, post partition it was called Statutory and Regulation Order. Now, Jammu and Kashmir will have SO, Statutory Orders. All the SROs that the state government had issued over the decades are history.
Official’s privy to the developments said that so far three SOs have been issued. SO1 was about some transaction and business rules. SO2 and SO3 pertain to the change of land registration process. So far the land registration (for stamp duty) was with the judiciary. Now it has been shifted to the revenue department, as per the central law. The Revenue Department has already set up the Inspector General Registration, a separate origination in which the duties of registration have been assigned to the revenue officers up to SDM level.
Of the erstwhile state’s statute book, the UT has repealed 153 laws and retained 166. Now all the central laws including those which were not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir will extend to the two UTs. The exercise for making Jammu and Kashmir specific insertions in almost 108 central laws has already started. Interestingly, Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 that stipulates detaining people without judicial proceedings was not repealed. At least six commissions including the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission and Protection of Women and Child Rights have legally ceased to exist.
The central laws regarding women, children, juveniles and the reserved categories are being given a fresh look to suit Jammu and Kashmir, reports in media suggest.
There will be tensions even at the policy making level. Under central law, anybody above 16 years of age is an adult. In Jammu and Kashmir, the legal adult is above 18 years of age.
Jammu and Kashmir is now governed by the central land acquisition laws under which the government will pay a compensation of four times of the market rate. Most of the land laws of the erstwhile state have been retained but neither of them prevents a non-state subject from acquiring the land. In fact, the classification of Jammu and Kashmir residents as state and non- state subjects has already been done away with.
The erstwhile state’s law governing the local Muslim Waqf is already history. Now, central law has replaced them. One report said the government has already appointed the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Wakf Board.
Under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, the central government (read MHA) would retain the control of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. There have not been any major development on this front, other than the Prosecution Wing of the police has been separated and converted into a full-fledged separate organization outside the control of the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
Till the assembly is in place in Jammu and Kashmir, all other functions shall remain with the LG. When constituted, the assembly will lack authority to legislate on policing and public order. Besides, the All India Services including IAS, IPS, IFS and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) will be under the control of the LG and not the elected government. Jammu and Kashmir’s Legislative Council was already abolished and now the tenure of the assembly is five years, not six.
Both the UTs will have their own Chief Secretaries, Police Chiefs and other officers. An Inspector General rank officer will head the police force in UT of Ladakh. In future, J&K will get officers from UT cadre.
Governor Malik’s administration had sought the choice of employees about their deployment in either of the two UTs. What was interesting that a number of natives from Ladakh had decided against being part of the desert UT? In coming days, Ladakh may require some human resources and possible that will be taken from the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.
The employment rules will have to undergo a serious review. Jobs in Jammu and Kashmir are technically not restricted to the people living in the territory. In case the government wishes to retain this benefit for the local population, the Civil Services Decentralisation Act may require certain changes.
Ladakh, for instance, may seek changes in reservation system. It lacks any Scheduled Caste (SC) population as most of it falls under Scheduled Tribes (ST). There have been certain changes in the reservation system already in the last session of the parliament.
A fresh delimitation will take the seats of the state assembly from 107 to 114 including the 24 berths reserved for the area of Kashmir in control of Pakistan. That process has not begun at all.
The process of dividing the assets and the liabilities has already begun with the constitution of a three-member advisory committee under the chairmanship of former Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra on September 8. It is yet to make its recommendations.
Three other committees on the personnel, financial and administrative issues were also set up. They have reportedly completed their task but their recommendations are still a secret.
It would require a major restructuring on finance front. What is interesting is that all the UTs in India have cumulative requirement of Rs 7500 crore in a year. The UT of Jammu and Kashmir will alone require more than Rs 90,000 crore.
There will be changes in the laws pertaining to education. While a central law will make the private sector to allocate a percentage of its in-take capacity to the under-privileged, the erstwhile law that gave education free up to university level may change.
The people living a sort of communication blockade could not understand the nitty-gritty of the transition in terms of laws and provisions. The one thing that helped them understand the change was when the announcers of the erstwhile Radio Kashmir Srinagar said it is All India Radio, Srinagar. People in Kashmir have had access to all forms of mass media but they have not abandoned Radio.
“I felt it (announcement) heavier than the oath ceremony that I attended,” one officer said. “It changed things entirely.” Radio Kashmir has been there since the accession took place and it joined the All India Radio network in 1954 but retained the nominal distinction that came to an end in 2019.
Though Kashmir is locked-down since August 5, the people observed complete strike the day Murmu took oath of office. Unlike Kashmir, there were protests in Kargil. Leh witnessed jubilations. Jammu was open, normal and calm but unhappy. A section of people is expecting an intervention from Supreme Court that is slated to hear the case on November 14. LG’s first day in office coincided with the thirteenth Friday when Kashmir’s Jamia Masjid remained locked.
BJP-led government celebrated the event and termed it historic.
“For decades, Article 370 stood between us Indians like a temporary wall. Our brothers and sisters on the other side of this temporary wall would always be in a state of confusion. This wall that promoted separatism and terrorism in Kashmir, today, as I stand before this grand statue of Sardar saheb, I bow my head before him and with complete humility, I am settling this account — ‘Sardar saheb, your incomplete dream… now this wall has been brought down’,” Prime Minister Modi said in Gujarat. “Sardar Patel has once said that if Kashmir’s issue was handed over to him, then resolving the issue would not have taken so long. He had warned the country that the only solution to the issue was the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India. Today, on his birth anniversary, I dedicate the decision of the removal of Article 370, taken on August 5, to Sardar saheb.”
“Article 370 and 35A were the gateway of terrorism in India,” Home Minister Amit Shah was quoted saying in Delhi while flagging off an event in memory of Patel. “Prime Minister Modi has closed this gate by repealing them.”
There were reactions from within and outside. Pakistan apart, even Beijing reacted. “The Indian government officially announced the establishment of the so-called Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh Union Territories which included some of China’s territory into its administrative jurisdiction,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was quoted saying. “China deplores and firmly opposes that. India unilaterally changed its domestic laws and administrative division challenging China’s sovereignty. This is unlawful and void and this is not effective in any way and will not change the fact that the area is under Chinese actual control.”
Delhi reacted quickly. “We do not expect other countries, including China, to comment on matters that are internal to India, just as India refrains from commenting on internal issues of other countries,” Ravesh Kumar, the MEA spokesman said. “We expect other countries to respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. China continues to be in occupation of a large tract of area in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.”
There were not many reactions from any other country.
Since the entire political class is under lock and key, quite a few politicians reacted. “We were an independent country 70 years ago, we have a history of 5,000 years and suddenly we have been reduced to a municipality,” NC MP, Hasnain Masoodi, a retired judge told reporters. “Everyone has a sense of bitterness. There is a sense of injustice, disillusionment and humiliation.”
“Forcible division will neither change the unity, individuality and collective character of J&K, nor will it solve Kashmir problem, existing for the last 70 years,” an NC statement said, insisting the people have been registering a silent protest against the “anti-Kashmir decision”.
“While Kashmiris mourn massacre of J&K, the same development is a source of sadistic pleasure to rest of India,” Iltija, Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter wrote on her mother’s twitter, uploading photo of the erstwhile State flag. “The emotional gulf that exists between you and us couldn’t be any wider. You violated our consent and rights, but will never control how we feel.”
The reaction from Dr Karan Singh, whose family cobbled the heterogeneous state together, was interesting. “It was an empire ruled for 101 years by the Dogras and then for 72 years by the Kashmiris,” Dr Singh was quoted by Daily Excelsior saying. “All empires invariably come to an end and this (the State of J&K) was no exception.”